Before I went to Israel my group leaders asked me why I wanted to go. I replied that I believed that I settled for crumbs from God and I wanted to experience the God of extravagance. I wanted the dump truck. I had many impactful lessons in Israel, but the following one actually moved my heart, mind and soul.
It was a picture, no, a mural, painted bigger than life on the side wall of a little cathedral in a church on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in the town that was Magdala.
You walked into a circular room, with stone bench seats all around the exterior on the walls. The middle of the room was empty save a marble slab for a podium and this amazing painting staring down at you. I could not take my eyes off the painting. The feelings it stirred up in me were unfamiliar but yet not.
The picture depicts the story of the Woman with the Issue of Blood from the Bible told in Luke 8:43-48, Matthew 9:20-22 and Mark 5:24-35 (NIV New International Version)
“A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
I prayed and asked God why this picture was affecting me so. What came to me was a surprise.
“I was on the outside looking in, I was not in Jesus’ inner circle, therefore the woman in the picture could have been me.”
I wondered what this exactly meant for me. Apparently, I spend my time with God watching and waiting for Him to move and then I join Him. I am not in the inner circle, like the staff room or the water cooler or the disciples circle where they sit around and talk about the day, their life, their comings and goings. I chose to rather sit apart and watch, on the outside looking in.
This woman had been sick for 12 years and had spent all she had trying to be healed. That means she had spent herself financially, but also emotionally, and spiritually for she had “suffered much.” I am sure she could not have counted the number of times she had cried out to God to heal her. She was a Jewish woman after all, she knew about God, she had been taught about prayer and sacrifices. I wonder how many sacrifices she had bought and took to the priests to offer up for her, to pay for her sins – real or imagined, as God had not healed her, she must have thought she was guilty of something very large.
This woman had to call out in a loud voice “unclean, unclean” everywhere she went, warning people that if they touched her they too would become “unclean”. People cleared a path or scurried out of the way whenever she called out. The loneliness and barrenness of her life was a large vacuum of isolation and heartbreak.
I remember a time where I too had an issue of blood for over 3 years, it almost killed me, literally. It was debilitating – it stole from me taking my life, my pride, my body, my energy, my “normalness”. I went to Dr. to Dr. to try to seek a cure, a miracle, a solution. It took 3 years before I got surgery to fix my issue. For this woman surgery was not even an option. She was desperate and if I might add, totally a Jane add, she probably wished she were dead on more than one occasion.
This woman had tried everything she had heard of to be healed and then she heard that Jesus was coming. She had heard rumours and stories that Jesus healed. She wondered if He had healing for her too and she found a boldness to try to venture near enough to touch Him.
To do this she needed to be silent, to not cry out “unclean”, she made up her mind to love herself more than others, she had to break the law, she had to deceive the crowds that were swarming around Jesus, jostling and pushing all trying just to be near Him. She knew that because she was “unclean” she did not stand a chance to stand in Jesus presence; no one wanted her near.
Somehow this woman knew if she could just “touch the hem of His garment” that she would be healed. How did she know that? How could she possibly get near to Jesus, who had hundreds of people vying for His attention?
Like this woman, a person who is on the outside looking in, watches, contemplates, listens – they learn by watching. Call it people watching or whatever name you want, but people watchers figure out people.
This woman had years of watching, waiting and listening. No one talked to her, she had no chance of family or friends anymore, she lived by herself, alone. She was always off from the crowds, never included, she was always on the outside looking in. She had heard that Jesus was going through her town, it would be a one-time only event, a one-time chance at being healed. It had been a long 12 years and she wanted, no she needed, a chance to live and desperate measures call for desperate acts.
I have read this story many, many times, but I do not think that I pictured this woman crawling through the legs of walking people, crawling through the dirt, the muck and mire laying on the roadways. How did she not trip the walkers? She had to crawl or crouch down, get low and figure out which legs were Jesus’? Which sandals were His? Were those His toes? Which robe was the one to touch? She had only moments, not minutes to reach out and touch the fabric before she would be exposed.
Imagine her surprise when she did reach out and touch the right fabric, the right hem and she could feel in her body a difference. What was she feeling? Elation? Surprise? Excitement? And then those dreaded words…. “who touched Me?” Stunned, she knew she was caught, there would be no escape.
Picture her straightening up, humiliated and knowing there would be punishment, head bent low for she could not look Jesus in the eye or anyone else for that matter. She heard the gasps as the town people recognized her as the “unclean” woman, the untouchable one. She felt their contempt and scorn as their steely eyes drilled into her soul, she could feel their accusations and so caught, she confesses what she has done. The crowd starts to part, backing away from her, retreating further and further away as they realize they still cannot touch her, that she is still the “unclean” one.
Then the voice, that voice, the voice of Jesus speaks – not accusingly, not forcefully, but gently and kindly, the voice is directed to her. “Daughter” – how long has it been since anyone, said a kind word to her? How long has it been since anyone included her into their family and now Jesus is saying “daughter” – a daughter of Abraham, including her into her Jewish family. Astounded now and in wonder she raises her head to look up into the face of Jesus.
He continues… “your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Jesus never chastises her, there is no punishment, rather there is praise for her faith, there is freedom and healing – life awaits her!
This woman believed that touching Jesus hem would heal her – this little act of touching His hem, brought about a life changing miracle.
God talked to me about living on the outside – believing that the scraps, the crumbs, “the hem” were enough. Why did I believe I was created for the outside? Why was I happy with being on the outside? Why could I not believe that Jesus Himself wanted me in the inner circle?
I realize that many of us, not just myself are content to live on the outside.
He brought to mind that I believed I was not good enough to be inside the circle and by believing that lie, that I was shortchanging myself and God all at the same time. He does not want us to settle for the hem, to settle for little touches when He has big miracles, big lessons and so much more life to give us.
I went to Israel to discover the God of the extravagant and by showing me this mural, He made me realize I did not think I deserved more than the hem.
That woman was not content to live on the outside any longer, she was desperate for more.
What about me? Am I content or am I desperate enough to want more? What about you?